A pedestrian walking past an advertisement for a plastic surgery clinic in Seoul. South Korea has become a hot plastic surgery destination for Singapore residents. But many are reporting botched operations. -- PHOTO: AFP
When Denise paid $10,000 to a clinic in South Korea last September, she was hoping to say goodbye to drooping eyebags and come back to Singapore with more well-defined double eyelids.
"They all said Korea is very good for plastic surgery," she told The Sunday Times. "I wanted to look younger, to look more beautiful."
What she got instead were creases in her eyelids which made her eyes look asymmetrical. She received another surprise - the Korean doctor removed fat from her abdomen and transferred it to her forehead, without her permission.
She only found out after she felt pain around her abdomen when she woke up after surgery. Fat grafting is usually done to add fullness to sunken areas and give a more youthful appearance. But not in Denise's case.
"Now I have a flat portion between my forehead and my eyebrows. It looks so unnatural.
"All my friends say I look like a changed person."
The Chinese national, who did not want her real name used, is in her 40s, and working in Singapore in a line where "looks are important".
She is not the only one returning from Korea with botched plastic surgery. Plastic surgeons in Singapore say they are seeing more patients in need of corrective surgery after failed procedures in South Korea.
"Five years ago, I saw maybe two patients with bad results and complications from Korea," said Dr Chua Jun Jin of JJ Chua Rejuvenative Cosmetic and Laser Surgery. "Last year, I saw about 100."
About 80 per cent of his patients are Singaporean, with the rest mainly from Malaysia and Indonesia.
Problems include infections, permanent scarring and distorted facial features.
Dr Martin Huang of Cosmetic Surgery Clinic said he sees one such patient a month on average, up from one to two a year before.
South Korea has become one of the hottest plastic surgery destinations for Singaporeans and others living here - because it can be a lot cheaper. Double eyelid surgery here, for instance, usually costs $6,000. In Korea, it can be done for $3,000.
But those who fly over should keep some things in mind - such as the hard-sell tactics.
"Korean doctors tend to suggest a lot of treatments," said Dr Chua. "So you end up doing things that you don't want, or doing more than you need."
Others, added Dr Huang, accompany a friend overseas for surgery, only to be "sucked into it themselves on the spot". He has also heard of procedures going wrong because of the language barrier between patient and doctor.
"Sometimes I ask patients about the consultation they had, and they tell me things like: 'There was no discussion because he couldn't speak English, so I just left it to him'."
In Denise's case, the clinic she went to - which was in the Gangnam district of the South Korean capital Seoul - employed a Chinese interpreter.
"But even then they never asked my permission," she said about the fat grafting. "They did it while I was unconscious."
Fixing a botched procedure can be more costly than the original operation, said Gleneagles Hospital's Dr Leslie Kuek, who has also noted more women seeking corrective surgery after their return from South Korea.
"Sometimes, it's hard for us to solve the problem if we don't know what the doctor on the other side has done," he said. "And not everything can be fixed. They come to us and we have to tell them the damage is permanent."
Dr Chua has even seen a woman with a growth on her nose - "a collection of pus half the size of a ping pong ball" - after her implant was infected. In such a case, "the only way is to take out the implant", he said. "Most people do a nose job thinking it's straightforward, but they have no idea what they're getting into."
It is important to do proper research and understand the consequences before committing to a procedure, say surgeons here. "Definitely a proper consultation is required as well," said Dr Huang.
A proper consultation takes between 20 minutes and an hour, depending on the complexity of the operation and the patient. Denise's consultation lasted about half an hour.
"I didn't suspect anything - the clinic was very clean and the service was very good," she said.
"If the procedure was successful, what I paid would have been worth it. But it was definitely not, and I'm really very unhappy."